Heat’s Big Three dominate Game 4 to even the Finals at two games apiece

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SAN ANTONIO — LeBron James was the one who took the bulk of the criticism for the Heat’s 36-point loss in Game 3, largely due to a 15-point outing that didn’t include a single free throw attempt.

But Dwyane Wade knew better. He was well aware that for Miami to bounce back and remain in the hunt for a second consecutive title, it would take all three of Miami’s stars to come through in a big way to hold off a very formidable Spurs opponent.

“Obviously it starts with us three,” Wade said on Wednesday. “We have to do a better job of being that quote, unquote, Big Three and leading our team … If us three don’t lead the charge, we’re not going to be NBA champions. Our teammates count on us, so we have to step up.”

Wade personally led that charge on Thursday, and LeBron and Chris Bosh were just as dominant as the Heat evened the Finals at two games apiece with a 109-93 Game 4 victory.

Despite the ultimate margin, this was an incredible game played at the highest level, especially in the first half. Each team held a lead of as many as 10 points, and the game featured dominant performances from several key players.

No one, however, was more important to the final outcome than Wade.

A knee injury has limited Wade for much of the postseason, both in terms of his athleticism as well as his ability to play with his customary level of intensity. But in Game 4, Wade was active from the start. He was aggressive in looking for his shot early, and came away with 10 first quarter points. He was flying around the court defensively, and ended up with six steals. Most critical, though, was his ability to provide a scoring punch that the Heat have been sorely missing.

Wade finished with 32 points on 14-of-25 shooting, to go along with six rebounds and four assists. He hadn’t been great in second halves of games in this series, and the fatigue of the knee issue was likely the main reason why. But with a little under nine minutes to play and the Heat leading by five, he came through on consecutive possessions.

After hitting a jumper in close, Wade reached into the passing lane and grabbed a steal. He headed out on the break, eluded a defender in the open floor, and then exploded for the one-handed slam which pushed the lead back to nine.

Wade’s performance was incredible, but it wouldn’t have been enough against these Spurs without some help from his teammates. And he got more than enough of it from James and Bosh.

LeBron came through on his guarantee to be more aggressive in this one, and once his team was down by 10 about halfway through the first quarter, that’s when he flipped the switch. James not only brought the ball up the floor to initiate the offense, he was running at three-quarter speed and attacking the paint with purpose on seemingly every first half possession.

James often found his teammates after forcing the defense to collapse, and was big on the boards, as well. He finished with 33 points, 11 rebounds, and four assists, to go along with a couple of steals and blocked shots.

Bosh completed the Big Three performance with 20 points and 13 rebounds, but his defense inside is what really gave his team the extra push they needed to complement the offensive prowess displayed by Wade and James.

On the Spurs’ side, Tony Parker showed no ill effects of the hamstring injury he suffered in the previous game, getting to the rim multiple times and scoring with spectacular finishes, or finding his teammates for open looks. But he did almost all of his damage in the first half, and didn’t score in 13 minutes of playing time over the final two periods.

In a game where Miami got top-level performances from all three of its stars on the same night, San Antonio wasn’t flawless enough in its execution to be able to match. The Spurs didn’t help themselves by turning the ball over 18 times, and they were unable to slow even one of the Heat’s three stars, and that made the proposition of coming away with the win virtually impossible.

“When Bosh, Wade and James score the way they did tonight and shoot it the way they did tonight, teams are going to have a difficult time if you help them and shoot poorly from the free‑throw line, as we did, and give over 20 points on turnovers,” Gregg Popovich pointed out afterward. “It’s not going to happen. When those guys play like that, you better be playing a more perfect game.”

On this night, perfection belonged to Wade, James, and Bosh.

LeBron James, do you owe Cleveland anything? “I don’t owe anybody anything”

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It will be the biggest off-court topic of the NBA season: Will LeBron James stay with the Cavaliers after this season?

Right now, LeBron doesn’t know the answer to that question for sure. I’m sure he has ideas, but he wisely leaves all his options open, then can make a call next summer when the time comes.

When that time does come, does he owe his hometown Cleveland anything? LeBron answered that question in the latest issue of GQ, and he answered with an emphatic no.

“LeBron James owes nobody anything. Nobody,” he said. “When my mother told me I don’t owe her anything, from that point in time, I don’t owe anybody anything. But what I will give to the city of Cleveland is passion, commitment, and inspiration. As long as I put that jersey on, that’s what I represent. That’s why I’m there — to inspire that city. But I don’t owe anybody anything.”

That’s not what Cavs fans may want to hear, but it’s also spot on. LeBron has given this franchise everything he has, he has brought them the first title the team has had in 50 years, and nobody sane can question his passion or how hard he plays.

LeBron could well get to his eighth straight NBA Finals, feel he’s on a team that can push the Warriors, then look at his options — the Lakers and a young core that doesn’t defend well, for example — and think maybe he’s best where he’s at. Perhaps he teams up with another star in Los Angeles or somewhere else. If LeBron called up 28 teams and said “I want to come there” those teams would make whatever moves they needed to for the deal to happen. (I say 28 because the Warriors wouldn’t, and even they’d think about it.)

LeBron has the leverage, and he is always a guy who keeps his options open. He will be asked about his future in every road stop, he will dodge the questions, and we’ll try to read the tea leaves, but as of right now LeBron doesn’t know for sure what LeBron will do next summer. Neither do we.

Report: Final season of LaMarcus Aldridge’s contract extension just $7 million guaranteed

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Spurs big LaMarcus Aldridge, who will earn $21,461,010 this season, agreed to exercise his $22,347,015 player option for 2018-19 in conjunction with signing a two-year, $50 million contract extension.

As usual, the devil is in the details.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Guaranteeing Aldridge just $7 million in 2020-21, when he’ll be 35, is obviously to San Antonio’s advantage relative to fully guaranteeing his extension. But it sets up an uneasy choice for the Spurs. Their three options for Aldridge will be:

  • Pay him $24 million in 2020-21 to play for them
  • Pay him $7 million in 2020-21 not to play for them
  • Pay him $2,333,333 in each 2020-21, 2021-22 and 2022-23 not to play for them

There’s a solid chance that none of those are appealing.

Some speculated San Antonio extended Aldridge to facilitate a trade, removing uncertainty stemming from Aldridge’s player option. Though the Spurs now can’t trade him before the deadline, they could move him in the offseason.

But that 15% trade kicker is a significant inhibitor. His salary is already lofty for his age. An increase would only dissuade teams.

The simplest explanation is probably correct: The Spurs value the stability of their core, no matter how old it is, over flexibility.

Thunder give P.J. Dozier No. 35, Kevin Durant’s old number

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The Thunder signed P.J. Dozier, who went undrafted out of South Carolina, to a seemingly innocuous two-way contract.

Then, they let him pick No. 35 – previously worn by Kevin Durant.

Erik Horne of The Oklahoman:

Honoring Reggie Lewis seems like a valid reason for Dozier, who probably didn’t want to get swept into what has become a minor controversy.

Personally, I don’t mind a player wearing any unretired number. Even numbers that will clearly be retired can be fair game until the jersey goes into the rafters. This is a non-issue to me.

But people care about this stuff. Many see it as a sign of disrespect to Durant, who left Oklahoma City on bad terms when signing with the Warriors. The Thunder lose deniability about not caring, considering they told Dion Waiters he couldn’t wear No. 13, which was previously worn by James Harden.

Will Oklahoma City eventually retire Durant’s No. 35? He spent a fantastic eight years there (and another season with the Seattle SuperSonics before they moved). Time will ease the bitterness of his exit. It’s certainly possible he’s honored that way.

In the meantime, let Dozier wear No. 35 in peace. It should have nothing to do with Durant.

Cornrowed Joel Embiid calls minute limit f—ing BS

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76ers center Joel Embiid made clear yesterday he disliked the minute restriction placed on him, which Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said would keep Embiid below 20 minutes per game.

Today, sporting a new hairstyle, Embiid upped the rhetoric.

Embiid, via Jessica Camerato of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

“That’s f—ing BS,” he said after practice Tuesday. “I wish I was playing more minutes. I think I’m ready for more than I don’t know whatever number they have.”

“I think the concept of minute restrictions is kind of complicated,” Embiid said. “I don’t think there should ever be minute restrictions. I think it should always be about how my body feels and how it’s reacting.”

“They know that I’m frustrated, but once again you’ve got to trust the doctors,” Embiid said. “They care about me. It’s all about the long-term view.”

“Like I always say,” he said, “you’ve got to trust the process.”

We’ve been here before – an injury-prone Philadelphia center rocking cornrows (at least Embiid went all the way with them) and Embiid lashing out at his minute limit.

Embiid is incredibly competitive, and he can’t just turn it off. It’s an attribute that contributes to his on-court excellence.

Embiid appears to have just enough trust-the-process perspective here, but Brown will also likely have his hands full keeping Embiid from getting too frustrated throughout the season.

At least Embiid has his contract extension and isn’t restless to get on the court and earn his big payday.